What shall we say, O God?

Images of the Passion, 2

The entrance to Jerusalem (Palm Sunday)

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Lord Wept (Le Seigneur pleura) - James Tissot.jpg

Anna and Caiaphas

File:Brooklyn Museum - Annas and Caiaphas (Anne et Caïphe) - James Tissot.jpg

Barabbas

File:Brooklyn Museum - Barabbas - James Tissot.jpg

What shall we say, O God, at the smiling face of Barabbas?
What shall we say about all those who game the system?
Those who say you do not see?
Those who go free at the expense of the innocent?

What shall we say about the injustices of our time?
the weak who are preyed upon,
the families that are separated,
the children who fear,
the debtors imprisoned?

What shall we say about the deceivers in power,
the manipulators and liars
who know how to crucify their enemies?

What shall we say about the one who comes to Jerusalem
knowing the truth of the human heart?
What shall we say about the shepherd who offers himself as the lamb,
the royal son who wears a crown of thorns?

What shall we say?

We have nothing to say,
only our prayers to offer,
our broken pride,
and our dependence on your priceless mercy.

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https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_The_Lord_Wept_(Le_Seigneur_pleura)_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_Annas_and_Caiaphas_(Anne_et_Ca%C3%AFphe)_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_Barabbas_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Ash Wednesday

Watching for Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Tomorrow we begin our long journey to Jerusalem where Jesus will wash feet, break bread, pray in Gethsemane, get kissed by Judas and abandoned by his followers, be abused by the thugs who snatched him in the night and tortured by Roman Soldiers in the full light of day. And he will not fight back. He will raise no army. He will lift no sword. He will call for no chariots of fire. There will be no joining of earthly and heavenly armies to slay the imperial troops of Rome. There will be hammer and nails and a tomb with its entrance barred by a stone.

And in the darkness of that final night will shine the light of a divine mercy that envelops the whole world in grace. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian observance of Lent, a forty day period of fasting, sharing and serving, a time of spiritual renewal that will bring us to that day when the women find the tomb empty and see a vision of angels declare that God has raised Jesus from the dead.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. And our evening begins with the burning of the palm fronds from Palm Sunday last year and the ancient practice of anointing ourselves with ashes.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust – it is partly about remembering our mortality. More profoundly it remembers that death came when humanity turned away from God. And so it is a day of repentance, of turning back to God. It begins a period of forty days of intentional turning towards God, an intentional deepening of our spiritual lives, an intentional deepening of compassion, faith, hope, and joy.

Our signs of repentance are not merely personal. We ask God’s forgiveness on behalf of the whole human race. And there is much to confess. The deceit and destruction loose in our world, the greed and over-consumption, the violence, the warring. There is much to confess. And we will stand with the victims of all our evil. With those ashes we stand with the abused and forgotten, the hungry and homeless, the refugees unwanted, the fearful and grieving. We stand with them all, daring to name our human brokenness, knowing that Jesus will share that brokenness and bear the scars in his hands and feet.

We dare to name it all, because God is mercy. Because God is redemption. Because God is new life. Because God is new creation. Because God is eager for us to turn away from our destructive paths into the path of life.

So with ashes on our foreheads we will renew the journey that leads to the empty tomb, the gathered table, and the feast to come.

The Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Almighty God, Holy and Immortal,
who knows the secrets of every heart
and brings all things to the light of your grace.
Root us ever in your promised mercy
that, freed from every sin and shame,
we may walk the paths of your truth and love.

The Texts for Ash Wednesday

First Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12 (appointed: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17)
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” –
After the return from exile in Babylon, life was hard and Jerusalem and its temple continued to lie in ruins. The people complained that God did not respond to their prayers. The prophet challenges the meaning of such prayers when the people fail to embody the life of justice and mercy to which God called them.

Psalmody: Psalm 103:8-14
“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.” – In our parish, we use the appointed Psalm 51 (the famous cry of repentance by David after he has been confronted by the prophet Nathan over the murder of Uriah and the taking of Bathsheba ) in the confession at the beginning of our liturgy. When we come to the time for the psalm we hear the poet speak of the tender love and faithfulness of God who has “removed our sins from us” “as far as the east is from the west.”

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:1 (appointed: 5:20b-6:10)
“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
– Paul calls his troubled congregation to live within the reconciling work of God in Christ.

Gospel Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” – Jesus declares at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount that, in order to enter into God’s dawning reign, our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Now, having spoken about the meaning of the commandments (in contrast to the way they are taught by the scribes) Jesus turns to the acts of piety for which the Pharisees were known. Our prayer, fasting and charity must be done not for public acclaim but to please God.

Casting wide the net of mercy

File:A fisherman casting a net neat Kozhikode Beach.jpgA reflection on the call of Jesus’ disciples from Sunday, January 21, 2018 (the Third Sunday after Epiphany)

Mark 1:14-20: 14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

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Before we begin this morning, I want to make two comments about the text. First, the text begins “Now after John was arrested.” The word that is translated ‘arrested’ here means to be betrayed or handed over. It is the word used of the betrayal and capture of Jesus. When we hear the word ‘arrested’ we think of a police force and a judicial process, but that’s not the world of the first century. ‘Seized’ is probably a better word. And the reason this matters is that here, at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, is the shadow of the cross.

Second, I want to remind you that the phrase “repent and believe” is the exact same phrase used when the Roman General defeated Josephus when he was part of the Judean rebellion that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 ce. As a member of the upper class, Josephus was given the choice to change sides and show allegiance to Rome. Jesus comes announcing the reign of God and calling us to change sides and show allegiance to the reign of God. These are not religious words about regret and moral regeneration; they are words about the fundamental commitment of our lives.

Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.

The 16th chapter of the book of Jeremiah contains a brutal prophetic word. God tells Jeremiah that he is not to take a wife or have children as a sign to the people of his day that a terrible judgment is coming upon the nation, a destruction so fierce that the bodies of children and their parents will lie unburied and unwept. They will become food for the buzzards and wild dogs.

Jeremiah is not to attend any funeral, or console any grieving parent, because no one shall lament those who perish in God’s coming judgment. Jeremiah is not to attend any wedding or celebration because the sound of joy is about to be banished from the land. Indeed, God is sending for a horde of fishermen and hunters to search every cave and cove to haul this people from every hiding place to their destruction.

It is a dark and devastating word from God.

What’s interesting about this Biblical text, however, is that somewhere along the line – either when the words of Jeremiah were being written down or when they were being copied and passed on to the next generation – someone along the way felt compelled to pluck two verses of hope from somewhere else in Jeremiah’s preaching and set these words into this declaration that God was sending out fishermen with nets to gather the people for judgment.

Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt’, but ‘As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors. (Jeremiah 16:14-15 // Jeremiah 23:7-8)

By setting this passage inside the other, the net of judgment becomes ultimately a net of grace.

God’s purpose for the nation does not end with their being scattered from the land where they were supposed to do justice, to show faithfulness to God and to one another, to care for the poor and weak – a faithfulness they failed to show. But God’s purpose ends with the scattered people being gathered.

There are many words of woe in the Biblical text, many words of warning about what will happen if we fail to live God’s justice and mercy. But the prophets do not stop there. It is easy to preach disaster. There are a lot of things that can go wrong when a society fails its most fundamental obligation to care for one another and the earth upon which we live. But God never stops with judgment. God always pushes on to reconciliation, to restoration, to hope. One of the most fundamental elements of the Biblical story is that when all hope for the future is lost – God gives us a future.

Abraham and Sarah have no child. He is 100 and she is 90. The promise of descendants seems at an end. But God is not finished with Abraham or with the world he has promised to save through Abraham’s line.

At the time of Noah, the whole earth has become “corrupt in God’s sight…and filled with violence.” (Genesis 6:12), that “every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts is only evil continually”! (Genesis 6:5RSV) But God is not done with his creation. He grants it a new birth.

Israel is in bondage in Egypt. They have been there for 430 years! (Remember, we are less than 250 years from the declaration of independence.) Pharaoh no longer remembers how Joseph saved the country. Pharaoh fears all these foreigners and instructs the midwives that every male child is to be killed at childbirth – and, when that fails, he issues an edict that every male child should be thrown into the Nile. But God saves a little child named Moses as he is being carried down the river out to sea.

When Moses leads the people out of Egypt, they become trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army and all seems lost – there is no hope – but during the night a wind blows and creates a path through the sea.

The people are without water in the desert, but God brings forth a river of water from the rock.

The people are without food and want to go back to Egypt and their slavery, but in the morning there is manna upon the ground.

Jerusalem is destroyed and the people scattered throughout the world. Many are taken as prisoners to Babylon. But fifty years later, Cyrus overthrows Babylon and lets all its captured people go home. And Jerusalem is rebuilt.

God is a god of mercy. God is a god who works reconciliation and restoration. God is a god who creates a future. God is a god who opens the grave.

So the editor of Jeremiah can’t let those words of judgment stand unanswered. And he reminds us that God’s purpose is to gather the scattered. The nets of judgment become nets of grace.

When Jesus walks along the shore of Galilee and sees those fishermen working there, he sees nets of grace. And he calls those fishermen to the work of gathering all creation into the arms of God.

It’s important we understand this. Our defining task as a Christian community is to gather all creation into the arms of God. The risen Jesus will breathe his Spirit on his followers and say As the father sent me, I sent you.” The last words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew are: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Disciples. Students. Followers. Practitioners. Citizens of the dawning age. Participants in the new creation.

Our tendency is to hear those words in a vaguely institutional sense of making new church members – or at least new Christians. But the vision is of a world brought under the reign of God’s spirit. The vision is a world pulled back from bondage into freedom, from death into life. The vision is a world gathered in the nets of mercy.

Our defining task as a Christian community, as followers of Jesus, is to gather all creation in the nets of mercy.

Now there are some things about this story that I want to be sure we also hear. The text says Jesus is walking along the shore. Jesus is walking on the boundary between the land and the sea. Boundaries are places of spiritual importance in the world of the scripture. All the conversation about clean and unclean in the Bible is about boundaries. What are the boundaries between what is holy and what is not holy?

I don’t have time to go into detail on this, so I hope you will trust me. But the shore is a boundary between the land – where we are safe – and the sea – where there is danger. When God began to create, the sea was a chaos and God set boundaries to the water. He created the dome of heaven to divide the waters above from the waters below, and he divided the sea to allow dry land to appear. He set boundaries that the sea could not cross (cf. Jeremiah 5:22). When Jesus stills the storm or walks on the sea, he is commanding the sea as God commanded the primordial chaos. When Jesus casts the demons out of the man in Gerasa, the demons go into the pigs and what do the pigs do? They run into the sea. The depths of the sea is the realm of chaos and darkness, the realm of evil spirits.

When Jesus walks along the shoreline and calls his followers to be fishers of people, part of the imagery rattling around in the background is the sea as a realm of chaos and evil. We are being called to gather humanity out from the realm of bondage into the realm of freedom. We are being called to cast wide the nets of God’s mercy, to gather the world out from darkness into light, from despair into hope, from death into life.

The second thing I want you to remember is that something is lost when we read this story clipped from the larger narrative. Yes, this is a great story on its own. Yes, it is a classic Sunday school story. But this story is still at the beginning of the very first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. And, as we talked about last week, Mark’s gospel is filled with intensity.

‘Immediately’, it says, they left their nets. (v. 18) ‘Immediately’ Jesus called them (v. 20). The word ‘immediately’ is used twelve times by Mark in this first chapter alone – that averages better than one in every fourth verse. It will get used thirty more times in this short little Gospel. The story Mark tells is full of urgency. It begins with a bang.

Jesus’ summons of followers is part of this incredible dynamic power of Jesus. He is the mighty one who will drench the world in the Spirit of God. He is the one for whom the heavens are torn open. He is the one on whom the Spirit descends. He is the one of whom God will say, “This is my Son, the beloved.” This is the one who will be immediately tested by Satan and be waited on by angels. This is the one who declares that the time has come; God’s reign is begun. He summons people to come and they leave everything to follow him. Next Sunday we will hear how demons cry out and immediately he silences them. We will hear how the sick are brought to him and he heals them. In the Sundays to come we will hear how he reaches out and touches a leper and renders him clean, and how he will announce a crippled man to be forgiven and then tell him to take up his mat and walk.

This story about Peter, Andrew, James and John is not really a story about us; it is a story about Jesus. We are called to discipleship. We are called to follow. We are called to cast wide the nets of mercy. But the story is not about us. It is about Jesus who walks fearlessly on the boundary between earth and sea, between heaven and hell, between death and life to rescue the world.

This is the Jesus who encounters us in the waters of the font. This is the Jesus who embraces us in his mercy and feeds us at his table. This is the Jesus who speaks to us words of life and breathes his Spirit upon us. This is the Jesus who commissions us as his agents and summons us to cast wide the net of mercy.

In a world so deeply entangled in passions and desires and hates and hostilities, in a world so deeply fractured as our own, in a world where judgment looms over our brokenness and sin, God is casting his net of mercy. He bids us follow.

Amen

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_fisherman_casting_a_net_neat_Kozhikode_Beach.jpg By Aswin Krishna Poyil (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Panting on the heights

File:3 khulan am Wasser Abend.jpg

Jeremiah 14:1-9

5 Even the doe in the field forsakes her newborn fawn
because there is no grass.
6
The wild asses stand on the bare heights,
they pant for air like jackals;
their eyes fail
because there is no herbage.

The creation suffers because of human sin. We can smugly say that the ancients were ignorant of modern science and didn’t understand the nature of weather patterns and naturally occurring droughts. And it might be that the ancients had a simplistic view of the weather as directly controlled by the gods – Baal, after all, is the storm god, god of the rain and therefore of prosperity and fertility. And we moderns may sneer at Texas Governor Rick Perry leading a prayer service for rain. But there is a deep spiritual insight in these ancient texts.

Our actions affect the world around us. When we tear down a mountain we affect the wind patterns. When we destroy wetlands we worsen the damage of storms. When we build on cliffs with beautiful ocean views we make ourselves vulnerable to the shore’s natural erosion. When we create acid rain we change ecosystems. When we pollute water systems we jeopardize health. When we pump water and chemicals into the oil fields we awaken old earthquake faults. The natural world changes when we kill off the top predators or cut down the forests or fill the air with chemicals that destroy the ozone or raise the greenhouse effect.

Our actions affect the world around us, for good or ill. When our actions are wanton and greedy, when they are thoughtless and self-absorbed, there is a price to pay. It gets paid by starving polar bears and algae blooms. It gets paid by dying reefs and perishing species. It gets paid by narwhal young when the melting of the arctic ice grants killer whales access to narwhal birthing sites.

So the prophet is not wrong when he sees “the doe in the field forsakes her newborn fawn” and the wild assess panting “for air like jackals,” and recognizes these as symptoms of a society whose people are greedy for luxury and not for justice.

There is no simple answer to the drought in the West and its accompanying sorrows. But there is occasion for repentance: for self-examination as a community and as individuals to consider whether we have exercised the care for the earth God assigned us or whether we have bowed down to other gods. It is an opportunity for “turning” (the meaning of the word repentance): for changing direction, changing our attachments, showing a proper fidelity to God and the world entrusted to our care.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A3_khulan_am_Wasser_Abend.jpg By Kaczensky at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Inhabiting joy

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Thursday

Luke 15:1-10

10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The angels are not singing because morality has been restored. They are singing because some small part of the torn fabric of life has been mended. Reconciliation has happened. Those long separated are reunited. The coin is back with its sisters. The sheep back with the flock. The brother back with his family.

Yes there has been repentance. But we have to be careful with that word. In what way does a coin repent? No, it gets found and restored to its place. And no sheep repents: sheep, when they discover that they are lost, lie down helplessly and cry. It’s why the shepherd must carry it. And carry it home he does. The “sinner” who “repents” is the rejected one who is reconciled, who is carried towards home, who finds himself embraced in the arms of the father – and who, in that moment of embrace, yields to the love that holds him. No games, no pride, no rationalization, no manipulations, just the overwhelming truth of overwhelming love.

When the prodigal son shows up on the edge of town he isn’t looking for restoration, he is hoping to be a slave in his father’s household. Perhaps, with years enough of service, he could repay his debt. But grace finds him. The debt is forgotten. The ring thrust on his finger before he can deliver his well-planned speech.

We don’t read the prodigal son story this Sunday – the third of three parables about being lost and found – just the first two. And it’s good that we don’t, because we jump so quickly towards that idea of moral reform. But the story isn’t about reform. It is about stunning, even senseless grace and the invitation to the whole village to rejoice at being made whole. The lost son is back – even as the coin is found and the sheep returned.

It is God’s purpose to heal the torn and tattered fabric of his creation. We were not made to hide from one another – or to hide from God in the shrubbery. We were not made to stain the earth with blood. We were not made to build weapons of war and towers to the sky. We were created to inhabit a good garden together.

We are created for connection, and whenever the angels see any part of God’s garden restored, they sing for joy.

And we, we are invited to inhabit that joy.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHappy_face_makes_us_happy.jpg  By Meghana Kulkarni from Pune, India (Happiness) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

God is still God

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Nathan confronts King David / David in prayer and fasting with worried servants watching

Wednesday

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:10, 13-20

15 The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill. 16 David therefore pleaded with God for the child; David fasted, and went in and lay all night on the ground.

The prayer of a parent for a child is desperate. Even when death is certain, the cry rises. Seven days the king lies on that floor. Seven days without food. Seven days in urgent petition. Hoping against hope. Pleading with God.

We all know of David’s sin with Bathsheba – he abuses his royal power to take another man’s wife and then arrange the husband’s death to hide the crime. But the crime is not hidden. God sees. And God sends Nathan to confront David.

The consequences of David’s sin are brutal: A lasting legacy of violence will plague David’s house. A son will take all David’s concubines in full view of all. And this child will die.

The death of children is common in David’s time – but the prophet makes sure that David knows that the death of this child rests solely on himself. If there were no sin, there would be no child to perish.

Other kings have slain prophets for such a message, but David acknowledges his sin.   And David prays. Seven days. Hoping against hope. Desperate prayer. Tears. Against the greatest fear of every parent. Maybe God will work a miracle? But no miracle comes.

David knows God is a God not only of judgment but of mercy, so David begs for mercy. For the child. For the mother. For God to erase the consequences of his deed. But sometimes there is no recovery from the consequences of our deeds.

And then our text says:

19 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, he perceived that the child was dead; and David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” 20 Then David rose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes. He went into the house of the Lord, and worshiped.

David worships. He comes before the altar. He offers his sacrifice. He hears the prayers and the song. He remembers this God of the Exodus. He acknowledges this God of Sinai. He communes, partakes of the holy meal. He goes forward. Life will not be easy, but God is still God.  And there is yet mercy.

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For other reflections on the texts for this Sunday from this and previous years, follow this link Lectionary C 11, or Proper C 6

Image: Paris psalter gr139 fol136v  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paris_psaulter_gr139_fol136v.jpg  public domain

Forgiven

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Watching for the Morning of June 12, 2016

Year C

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 6 / Lectionary 11

This Sunday forgiveness takes center stage. We hear the prophet Nathan confront King David about his murder of Uriah to cover David’s crime with Bathsheba. It is a brilliant effort, using a story of a poor man’s treasured sheep, seized and killed by his wealthy neighbor, to get David to condemn himself.

It is not clear whether Jesus has as much success with Simon the Pharisee, who invites Jesus to a banquet but shows him none of the honor due a guest. In scandal after scandal, a woman bursts in on the scene, washes Jesus feet with her tears and dries them by unbinding her hair. Simon concludes that Jesus is no prophet; a prophet would know this woman is a “sinner”. But Jesus knows both her and Simon, and with a story of two debtors gets Simon to acknowledge that the forgiveness of a great debt creates great love. Then, like Nathan saying to David, “You are the man!”, comes the piercing revelation of Simon’s lack of hospitality and hardness of heart.

We will hear of David’s repentance, but not of Simon’s, and the psalm will talk about these two responses: describing how the heart shrivels when sin is not acknowledged, and how life is restored when it is confessed and forgiven.

Sunday, our second reading continues in Galatians, where we hear Paul speaking to the congregation in Galatia asserting again that it is not the observance of Judean custom and ritual that makes us acceptable to God, but our trust in and allegiance to the God who raised Jesus from the dead. It is a message that leads him to joyfully proclaim:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The Prayer for June 12, 2016

Gracious God,
whose infinite mercy should prompt in us an infinite love,
help us to taste and see your goodness
and to share that banquet with all;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 12, 2016

First Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:10, 13-20 (appointed 2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:10, 13-15)
“Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’” –
The prophet Nathan confronts David on his murder of Uriah to hide his crime with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah – and David repents.

Psalmody: Psalm 32
“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
– The psalmist tells of the corrosive power of unconfessed sin, and the liberating mercy of God when he acknowledges his fault.

Second Reading: Galatians 2:15-21
“We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.”
– Having shown that his Gospel was not delivered on behalf of any human authority but through his encounter with the risen Christ, Paul reasserts his teaching that we are not made acceptable to God by the observance of Judean ritual and customs, but by trust and loyalty to the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

Gospel: Luke 7:36-8:3
“‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’” –
Jesus is invited to feast at the home of Simon, a Pharisee, but is shown none of the proper hospitalities. A woman breaks into the dinner and washes Jesus feet with her tears and anoints them with a perfumed oil. Jesus’ acceptance of her confirms Simon’s presumption that Jesus is not a prophet – but Jesus shows prophetic insight and speaks to Simon with a parable about two debtors and what is shown by great love.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AForgiveness_0001.jpg By scem.info [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) or CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Feed my sheep

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Watching for the Morning of April 10, 2016

Year C

The Third Sunday of Easter

It’s painful to hear. We understand why Peter was crushed when Jesus asks a third time “Do you love me?” It strips the cover off the wound of his denial. Three times Peter had been asked if he was a follower of Jesus and three times he had denied it. Now he is given the chance to change the outcome of that denial. But it hurts.

The truth is often painful. But only in truth can true allegiance be born. If we do not understand what has been forgiven, how can our lives be bound to him in true allegiance?

The one who vowed to die with Jesus rather than deny him watched his teacher die alone. Now the leadership of the Christian mission is entrusted to him.

This addendum to John’s Gospel provides the center of the texts on Sunday. We will hear of Paul’s life-transforming encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. He who was held the coats as the mob stoned Stephen to death, who had ravaged the early Christian community and was traveling now with authority to seize the believers in Damascus – he is delivered from his blindness by the Lord through the ministry of faithful Ananias. He is baptized, united with Christ Jesus, bound by immeasurable mercy to faithfulness.

The psalmist sings of his complacency in his wealth, the crisis that came, the deliverance God gave, and the new life of thankfulness and praise. And John of Patmos sees a vision of all heaven singing the praise of the lamb who was slain – but lives and reigns.

The drama of Easter is not a dramatic and unexpected comeback in the final four seconds. It is the drama of our lives revealed by fierce and tender truth, of new life found in God’s amazing grace, of the faithfulness born of that grace, and the ministry to the world that follows.

The Prayer for April 10, 2016

Gracious God,
through the resurrection of Jesus your son
you have turned all human mourning into dancing.
As he appeared to his followers by the seashore,
nourished them at his table,
and sent them out into the world,
so come to us, that fed by your mercy
we too may carry your bread of life to the world;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 10, 2016

First Reading: Acts 9:1-20 (appointed: 1-6 [7-20])
“Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” – Saul (Paul) encounters the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and is left blind. Ananias responds to God’s call to go and heal him.

Psalmody: Psalm 30
“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” – With words that echo the resurrection, the poet sings of God’s deliverance from an unexpected affliction: “I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’”

Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
– The prophet sees the heavenly hosts around the throne of God singing praise to the Lamb who stands upon the throne.

Gospel: John 21:1-19
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” – In an addendum to John’s Gospel, The risen Jesus appears to his followers at the sea of Galilee and gives Peter the opportunity to turn his threefold denial into a threefold affirmation of allegiance to Jesus, and conveys to him the leadership of the nascent Christian community.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AOxfam_East_Africa_-_SomalilandDrought026.jpg  By Oxfam East Africa (Flickr: SomalilandDrought026) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Come to the banquet

File:Taxiarchis Church Feast (5159037622).jpg

Watching for the Morning of March 6, 2016

Year C

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

The story of the prodigal son is familiar to everyone – and yet, not familiar. It is set in a culture different than our own and the story is much deeper than it first appears to us. We tend to hear a story of misspent youth, personal regret, moral reform and a penitent child welcomed home by a loving father. But Jesus’ listeners heard a much more profound story of a shameful family and a father’s dramatic action to save the life of his child by inviting the village to feast.

This is a child who has violated core communal values by seeking and selling the inheritance. By his action he declares he wishes his father were dead and threatens the extended family’s survival by selling a third of the land upon which they depend for food. The father acts shamefully, horribly, by acceding to the demand – and then, inexplicably, is willing to save the son’s life when he returns home. The son is facing communal violence as if he had desecrated the Koran. He is the small town pastor’s son who, after years of abusive behavior, breaking windows, violating the sanctity of the worship space, finally sets fire to the building and flees town. Now imagine he walks back into the sanctuary…

The father races to embrace his son to protect him from the village and then invites the whole village to come and feast – to be reconciled with this troubled family. (And we haven’t talked of the elder son’s shameful conduct who, like his brother, acts like his father is dead.)

This is a parable of the kingdom – but in what way is this tragic story like the kingdom? The feast. In a world troubled by greed and violence and family decay comes the invitation to share in the feast of reconciliation. It is a banquet set in the rubble of a Syrian city. It is a banquet set on the capitol steps. It is a banquet set on the white house lawn. It is a banquet set in the Pentagon parking lot. It is a banquet set on Wall Street. It is a banquet set in our own troubled homes and villages. It is a banquet of reconciliation to which all are invited. To which we are invited. God has killed the fatted calf and called us to rejoice with him in a world made new.

Yes, to answer such an invitation means letting go of old hatreds and greeds. Yes, to answer such an invitation is a profound reorientation of our lives. But God is setting the table and inviting us to come and share the feast, to join the dance, to sing the songs of joy, to break the bread of peace.

And so, with this text on Sunday, we will hear Paul speak of the new creation in Christ, and the psalmist sing of the peace of God’s forgiveness. And we will hear of the wilderness wanderings come to an end and the people gathered in a great Passover celebration where they share in the bounty of the promised land. The banquet is at hand and we are invited to share in the feast where all sins are forgiven and all creation reconciled.

Gathered

File:Rome - Basilique Saint-Jean-de-Latran - Rencontres européennes de Taizé 2012 - 2.jpgThis week we are continuing our congregation’s Lenten series rooted in the Apostles’ Creed. Last Sunday centered on a phrase in Luther’s Small Catechism He has called me through the Gospeland that is the subject of our daily devotions. Sunday we will continue in the third article of the creed with the line from the Catechism: “He gathers me into the Body of Christ.”

Christian faith isn’t private or solitary. When we put our faith, hope and trust in Christ we are joined with all others who have made him their hope. We have been joined to the missional community sent to bear witness to Christ throughout the world. We are gathered into the community where love is our new commandment. We are united to the body through which Christ is present to the world. Here the Spirit is given. Here sins are forgiven. Here the feast to come is begun.

The Prayer for March 6, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you gather us into the community of the church
and there proclaim to us your love and faithfulness.
Make us ever mindful of your gifts and faithful to one another
that, as one body in Christ Jesus,
we may bear witness to your grace and glory;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for March 6, 2016

First Reading: Joshua 5:1-3, 9-12 (appointed 5:9-12)
“The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land.” – the people have come out from the wilderness, crossed the Jordan and are camped at Gilgal where they celebrate Passover and begin to live off the fruit of the land.

Psalmody: Psalm 32
“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
– The poet sings of the goodness of God’s gracious forgiveness.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (appointed 5:16-21)
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” –
Paul speaks of the new reality that has dawned in Christ Jesus.

Gospel: Luke 15:1-2, 11-32 (appointed 15:1-3, 11b-32)
“The Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ …So he told them this parable: ‘There was a man who had two sons.’”
– Jesus tells of a troubled and shameful family whose father acts decisively to protect his wayward sons.

Gathered: Though Sunday takes us to the next section of the creed, our daily devotions during Lent are still reflecting on the theme for week 3 from the third article of the creed: Week 3: Called.” We invite you to join us at the Lent website or through our congregation website.

 

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATaxiarchis_Church_Feast_(5159037622).jpg By Klearchos Kapoutsis from Santorini, Greece (Taxiarchis Church Feast  Uploaded by Yarl) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARome_-_Basilique_Saint-Jean-de-Latran_-_Rencontres_europ%C3%A9ennes_de_Taiz%C3%A9_2012_-_2.jpg By Peter Potrowl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Fruitless

File:Old fig tree.JPG

Saturday

Luke 13:1-9

6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.

Several years ago when I was serving an inner city parish in Detroit, I was on a committee that had to decide what to do with one of the other parishes in the city. Partly this was about the allocation of mission dollars: should we continue to support this parish or let it die?

I was pretty passionate about the closing city parishes. Detroit at the time was in the midst of a terrible recession. The Lutheran church had once had many thriving parishes in the city, but as white flight occurred in the 60’s and 70’s, congregations moved – or closed up shop as their people moved. One congregation went from 1,500 to 500 members in the single year of 1967.

Detroit was dotted with buildings that had once been Lutheran congregations. My local precinct was one of “ours” that had closed up and sold its building to a Baptist church. I drove by another every time I came off the freeway. There was a former Danish church I passed regularly whose distinctive Danish architecture was a painful reminder every time I saw it. I read somewhere that the old Roman rite for closing a parish required the bishop to take an ax to the altar and thought were should make our bishop do the same every time he or she closed a parish – to make visible the wound to the body of Christ and its ministry in that place.

But then there was this parish we were examining. We recognized the blow to the ministry of this congregation when half the homes in its parish were bulldozed to create a freeway, but that was not the only problem. As we examined the life of the congregation itself, we came to the simple realization that “there were no fruits of the Spirit there.” There were a few people (bickering people), and regular worship, but no love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” no feeding of the hungry and clothing of the naked and care for the sick.

“For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’”

We closed the parish. It was the right decision…just painful to admit.

Jesus is looking at the leadership of the nation – a fig tree sucking up the nutrients from the soil of God’s vineyard and giving back nothing. Jesus could see the future of a city that failed to live God’s reign, that failed to do justice and mercy, to show fidelity to God and one another. He could see that Rome would come and blood would flow in the temple, even as the Galileans had been struck down. He could see that the towers would fall when Rome breached the walls and thousands would perish. He weeps for a city that rejects God’s voice.

God looks for fruit from his fig tree. God looks for fruit from his vineyard. God looks for his harvest from the tenants of his vineyard. God looks for justice and mercy from his church. God looks for justice and mercy from all people.

The warning that Jesus gave to Jerusalem abides. Those who take up the soil without returning fruit abide on dangerous ground. Jesus our gardener, pleads for more time, but now is the time to turn to the life where God’s Spirit rules.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Old_fig_tree.JPG#file